Sleep And Pregnancy: 5 Tips To Manage Your Changing Needs

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

In honor of Sleep Challenge 2010 (thank you Arianna and Cindi!), I offer a personal perspective on the challenges of being pregnant and sleeping well...

I've always been a sleeper.

Even as a child I could sleep anywhere and recall falling asleep at a rowdy Denver Nuggets game as a teenager.

Throughout my career in International Human Rights, I have been fortunate to travel the globe, often times arriving in dangerous war zones after more than 36 hours in transit and facing a busy schedule. No problem. I'd sleep on planes and on airport benches, in the back of taxis and rickshaws and twice I've slept like a baby at Mt. Everest Base Camp, regardless of the 17,000 ft. altitude that keeps most folks awake.

But pregnancy is a different animal all together.

Barely out of my first trimester, with my first baby, I am plagued by constantly changing sleep patterns. With hardly any warning at all, I can fall asleep at 2:00 in the afternoon and wake up in a pool of my own drool an hour later, wondering how I got on the couch and "where was I heading in the first place?" At the same time, I lie awake for hours at night, unable to get comfortable and thinking about how utterly bizarre it is that my body is growing an entirely new organ (the placenta), or that there is another human being floating around inside of me, thinking thoughts of its own.

Having to pee every hour doesn't help the late night restlessness and the whole night dance has me longing for afternoon naps even more, causing me to feel like an 80-year-old insomniac, unable to accomplish more than a few things per day.

I have, however, discovered a few tricks to help me manage the madness of pregnancy sleep and thought I'd share them with my fellow mommas-to-be out there, as well as the families and friends of those expecting.

1. Keep high protein food by the bed. Most of the time when I'm tossing and turning at 4 a.m., it's because I'm hungry. I've found plain almonds do wonders and if you soak them in water overnight, they are even better for you and easier to digest. I'm also a fan of pre-made protein smoothies or high protein snack bars. I keep my partner awake chomping on almonds in the dark and I often find a stray nut in my pillow in the morning... but it is worth it to wake up without nausea and be able to function (at least for a few hours).

2. Catnaps do wonders. Some afternoons I'm so tired that I swear I could sleep for hours, and if unchecked I probably would...only to find myself wide awake again at night. Lying down for 20 minutes seems to do the trick (set an alarm!) and allows me to push through the afternoon and fall asleep at a decent hour at night. If you're at work and can find a place to close your eyes for 20 minutes, even if you don't fully fall asleep, your productivity will increase when you return, making the break worth it (at least that's what you should tell your boss ☺). If napping at work is not possible, then try getting one in before your shift or right afterward.

3. Light exercise...Ugh! If you're like me, fatigue and nausea make exercise sound like torture right now. But every doctor and midwife recommends it, so I fought the urge to lie around like a sack of potatoes and tried it. Turns out, it actually makes you feel better and less lethargic! Even a 15-minute walk will bring up your energy and can help with sleep...and light exercise will get all those hormones moving through your body instead of just sitting there making you sick, so your nausea improves too!

4. Stretch before sleep. A large part of restless sleep for me has to do with my changing body. Everything is shifting and growing and achy. I find that 15-minutes of stretching before I sleep helps enormously. Make sure to read up on which stretches are recommended and what to avoid.

5. Let go of the "Shoulds". One of the hardest parts of managing pregnancy sleep is the societal norms that dictate what we "should" do. Who says you can't go to bed at 6:30pm? We are conditioned to feel that napping every afternoon makes us lazy and unproductive, but in reality its what your body needs and is asking for. This is a special time in your life and it requires special don't listen to anyone else's "shoulds". Tune into your body's needs instead and sleep when you can. From what I understand, as soon as that baby is born it stops being all about us and we are going to need all the sleep we can get!

Do you have a pregnancy sleep tip to share with other expecting moms out there? Is it true that sleep gets easier in the second trimester?

Please comment below and share the wealth.

Kiri Westby

Featured contributor to Ed and Deb Shapiro's new book, BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, with forewords by HH Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman.